Melanie’s ovarian cancer returned this year after five years in remission. She’s now facing cancer that has spread throughout her body. Melanie immediately started treatments again, but chemotherapy and radiation were now unsuccessful, and her pain and symptoms were not being controlled. She was soon hospitalized, and her family was told that death was imminent.
From across the country family and friends came to visit with her one last time. In the meantime, Melanie’s family had heard about palliative care from a friend and asked for a consultation.
Within 48 hours, the palliative care team had eliminated Melanie’s pain and disabling symptoms. Because of the care and treatment provided by the palliative care team, Melanie was up and walking around again. She began eating and was able to go home. As she put it, “The palliative care team is my hero. I feel well again. They saved my life.”
Everyone was so impressed with the improvement of her health and spirits that she is now being considered for another course of curative treatment.
Deborah, the mother of an eight-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy, was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. She now has metastatic disease involving her bones, which is causing her severe pain. It has been hard to care for her children and get to work. Her oncologists, renowned leaders in their field, have focused intensively on controlling her cancer and identifying the chemotherapy plans that are most likely to work for her, but she is suffering terribly.
Deborah intends to fight her cancer with everything she has, and to be here for her kids as they grow up. But recently the pain has become so bad that she has been unable to sleep or eat, spending much of her day curled up on her side in bed. She even missed a course of chemotherapy because of the pain, and she has had to hire outside help to get her kids to and from school.
Her longtime doctor finally referred her to the palliative care team at her local hospital. Within two days of beginning low-dose opioid therapy, her pain was controlled; she was up and around, sleeping and eating; and back to her normal life with her family. She has been able to complete her latest course of chemotherapy, and her oncologist feels her scans are showing a good response to the treatment.
Deborah thinks every patient with cancer should work with a palliative care team along with his or her oncologist. She wonders how she would have gotten through her illness without them.
Thanks to the Center to Advance Palliative Care at Mount Sinai School of Medicine for sharing these stories.